Earning Interest
As Susquehanna Bank expands, customers and community remain at the forefront
by Phil Gianficaro


Bank merger. The mere mention of those two words can trigger shivers of concern down the spine of some bank customers, particularly those of the smaller bank being purchased by the larger entity. Such transactions oftentimes raise worrisome questions in the minds of customers: How will this merger affect me? Will I become less important to my bank as it continues to grow?


To customers of Lancaster-based Susquehanna Bank, which acquired Abington Bank in October, and will complete its acquisition of another regionally based bank—Graystone Tower Bank—in February, the answer to those questions is no.


“While any kind of change is unsettling to customers, our customers should know they’ll continue to be the main focus of Susquehanna Bank,” says Jeffrey J. Culp, regional president for Susquehanna Bank’s five-county market throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, who has 30 years of banking experience. “Sometimes customers’ worries start if you change the name of the bank. Probably the bigger impact is on the people you deal with on a daily basis. If you change what their statement looks like and what the account is called, naturally people are going to worry a bit.


“But we allay their fears by dealing with the customer on an individual basis,” he continues. “That’s how Susquehanna Bank has always operated. One of the benefits of our bank is the approach we take to business. We do things on a community-based level. We’re local people dealing with our customers. That will never change.”


Culp’s sentiments are echoed by Liz Golding, who has spent the last 19 months directing the retail side of 1N Bank, Graystone Tower Bank’s division in Chester County. She will join Susquehanna as retail executive and senior vice president of the Chester County market at the time of the merger. Golding brings 23 years of experience to Susquehanna.


“What’s important when going through bank mergers is the way bank teammates handle customer concerns,” says Golding. “It’s important to tell the customer that although the product will be called something different, it’s important to look at the benefits of coming to Susquehanna Bank because the product will be better for them.”


A Growing Presence

According to Golding, customers benefit from the merger by having more locations at which to conduct banking business than ever before.


“The beauty of this merger is that our customers can now bank in Chester County, Montgomery County, Delaware County, Bucks County, Philadelphia County and central Pennsylvania,” Golding says. “We have customers who travel all over. Now they can do their banking as they travel and be assured of the same high quality of service as before.”


Susquehanna Bank’s pending acquisition of Graystone Tower Bank and acquisition of Abington Bank’s 20 branches in the Philadelphia region will increase its assets to approximately $17.8 billion, making it the largest community bank in Pennsylvania. Susquehanna will have more than 60 branches in the Philadelphia area, part of its network of 260 branches in the Mid-Atlantic region.


When the merger is complete, Susquehanna Bank will become the largest bank in deposit market share and branch count among independent banks that have more than 90 percent of their deposits in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey. It will also secure the bank a top three market-share position in 14 of the counties it serves.


The merger will also enhance Susquehanna Bank’s already strong presence in central and southeastern Pennsylvania, and will significantly increase its market share in attractive Pennsylvania markets such as Chester County.


“Southeastern Pennsylvania is critical to Susquehanna Bank’s growth,” Culp says. “We will continue to expand our presence here and increase our focus on opportunities for growth in the commercial and real estate lending components of our business. In relatively short order, we’ll go from a limited visibility presence on the retail side to a much stronger physical presence in mostly suburban counties with the strengths being those two acquisitions. They have similar customer bases and long-standing traditions in the communities with a lending focus. With that, we have a unique opportunity to bring to that market the strength of a regional bank.


“We bring a balance sheet that ought to be able to support financing needs of our typical customer, from a privately held business owner to the consumer. We also retained virtually all of the customer contacts from Abington Bank, and the same will apply to [Graystone Tower Bank’s] 1N Bank. There’ll be minimal customer interruption.”


Golding has already begun ensuring customers a seamless transition from 1N Bank to Susquehanna Bank. Her bank teams have already had conversations with customers, starting with thanking them for their business and asking how the bank might better serve their banking needs.


“Liz’s people are telling the customers about the merger,” Culp says. “If change is not a surprise, it’s easier for the customer to deal with.”


When Culp proudly identifies Susquehanna Bank as a community-based bank, his words are not without foundation. His bank, as was the case with 1N Bank and Abington Bank, has a long history of making financial contributions and encouraging employees to contribute to the community by volunteering in various organizations.


“It’s a big part of the culture of the company,” says Culp, who, like Golding, has served on boards of directors and volunteered in his community. “One of the important aspects of a community bank is its commitment to the markets they’re in. For the most part, you find that the people working for us in those markets live there.


“As the banking industry has had its head beat in the past few years, its community involvement is one aspect that’s been lost. In a community, there’s probably not an organization that you see that a financial institution isn’t involved. I can tell you that Susquehanna Bank is involved.”


An additional benefit to customers through the merger is access to other subsidiaries of the bank’s parent company, Susquehanna Bancshares: Valley Forge Asset Management Corp., Stratton Management Company and The Addis Group. Valley Forge and Stratton are niche wealth-management companies focused on money in the five-county marketplace in southeastern Pennsylvania, while the latter is a niche insurance brokerage company based in King of Prussia.


In the end, Susquehanna Bank’s most important “acquisitions” are its customers.


“When I think of a community bank, I think of positively impacting customers’ and employees’ lives,” Golding says. “And that’s what we have at Susquehanna Bank. We have a product line second to none. We’re a one-stop shop. At any branch, you can open a checking account or work with our affiliate companies to open the most sophisticated wealth account.


“At the end of the day, we want to make sure of one thing: that we’re exceeding people’s hopes and dreams.”


Susquehanna Bank

1570 Manheim Pike

P.O. Box 3300

Lancaster, PA 17604-3300

Phone: 800-311-3182

Website: www.susquehanna.net


Phil Gianficaro is an award-winning writer based in Doylestown.

Rob Hall is a photographer based in Plumsteadville.